Warning: the following article contains discussions of sexual assault that may be distressing to some readers. If you experience sexual assault, please contact SafeHouse of Shelby County at 205-669-7233 for their 24-hour crisis help line.
By Ariel Hall
When I saw that The Alabamian had released an article on sexual assaults here on campus, I felt this overwhelming urge of panic.
Many people know about my connection with the newspaper, that I used to be editor, that I have friends on staff, and I was absolutely terrified someone would ask me what I thought about it.
The truth is I absolutely applaud Harrison and Hannah for handling such a difficult subject, and as a fellow journalist, I don’t think I could have done it as well as they did.
I have been sexually assaulted twice during my time in college. And to clarify, not all sexual assault is rape, and according to RAINN, the majority of SA victims know their perpetrator.
For me, mine was a classmate. He and I were friendly, so I didn’t think much of it when he asked me to hang out. This quickly escalated until I felt pressured to comply into performing sexual acts. I didn’t know him well enough to know what would happen if I outright said no. I had heard so many horror stories; I was scared of the worst possible outcomes.
That night, I walked in the December cold back to my dorm room, and tried to pretend nothing had happened.
It took me months to even realize what had actually happened that night – it wasn’t violent. I hadn’t outright said no, so it wasn’t assault, right?
For months after this, similar events transpired with the same person, and I never reported it.
Why? Because I thought I deserved what had happened. I thought it was my fault, that I had gotten myself in that situation. I even had let it continue because I was scared that he’d hurt himself or even commit suicide if I didn’t. He was well liked and popular and involved on campus, and it be my word against his, as these cases so often are.
The following August, I was raped by a person I had been dating who attended a different university. I remember it all too well, and I wish both of these men realized how much they absolutely broke my spirit. I was hospitalized a few weeks later for a suicide attempt.
The events that transpired not only broke me, but led to a chain of events that led me to burn bridges with people, with friends, that I can’t possibly rebuild.
I disclose all of this to you readers because it is so deeply important to share my own story and to share that it is not always so black and white as the stories that were bravely shared in the original article Harrison and Hannah wrote. Sexual assault is a wide-spread problem, especially at universities, and Montevallo is no exception.
I never told anyone about my assault until recently, and still, there is some part of me that believes that if I had reported it to the University, that nothing would have been done.
There are sanctions, but too often, the perpetrator is still in school, still able to wander the halls, still able to hurt another person. So even though I didn’t report, if I did, I don’t know if I would have seen any real change, and the knowledge of this makes it less likely to report in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle.
I’m no longer having to face my perpetrator on a day-to-day basis, as he has already graduated, but the fact that he was able to still graduate and go on to graduate school makes me unbelievably angry. I’m angry for all the people who have been victims of sexual assault and still have to pass their perpetrator in the hallway. Survivors should not have to change their lives to save their perpetrator’s reputation or to avoid reliving their trauma.
Not only should universities provide a safe environment to report, but they also need to have a support system that follows through, so when people do report, change will actually happen.
Montevallo needs to do better. We need to do better.
If you have an experience you want to share, contact The Alabamian at email@example.com. Interviews are confidential and can be published anonymously.
Ariel Hall is a writer for The Alabamian. She is a senior communication studies major and enjoys reading and photography in her free time. Previously, Zoe has acted as editor in chief, lifestyles editor and advice columnist.